Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Jeffers in the Classroom

Artistic Director Corey Madden has leading a nine-week workshop with Occidental College students called "Robinson Jeffers: Ecologies of Poetry." Photos from the class can be seen here. Here are Corey's notes on the experience thus far:
The independent study course: Robinson Jeffers: Ecologies of Poetry, is a participatory nine (9) week workshop where students will
· Develop skills in devising and composition;
· explore themes related to Robinson Jeffers’ poetry and legacy
· Use compositional elements such as natural elements, music, sound, performance, movement, text, environments, etc
· engage with the work of other artists including Maya Lin, Andy Goldsworthy and Isamu Noguchi and writers such as Gary Snyder, John McPhee, etc.
· collaborate in teams and independently
· engage with several communities during the development and presentation of work ( Oxy students, NE elementary and/or high school students, NE general population)
· create and produce multi/inter-disciplinary performances and installations in class and on campus
· plan and install their culminating projects within a budget and timeframe on the campus for the public and Oxy community between November 1-7, 2009.

9/15/09 CLASS 1
After a fast and furious recruitment process, we have 6 students registered for the Independent Study “Ecologies of Poetry” and about 30 students who want to participate in the project but haven’t got time in their schedules for a regular class.

Joni, Dmitri, Natayla, Monikah, Elaine and Julian represent a diverse cross section of the college community. We have science, humanities and arts majors, with interests in education, ecology and interdisciplinary art.

We read the Robinson Jeffers’ NEA reader’s guide together as a group. We looked at documentary photos of North East Los Angeles from the 1880s through 1920’s. We also looked at the work of land artists Maya Lin, Andy Goldsworthy and sculptor Isamu Noguchi.

I introduced the concept of composition by talking with students about their own experiences with making art, writing, music, running experiments etc. I talked about the common threads in any generative and creative process. I also talked about “shaping meaning” as a common process in all art, and “shaping meaning over time” a key difference between plastic arts and performing arts.

This class will develop the ability to compose short interdisciplinary works through an “additive” pedagogy. Over the course of 8 week, students will make a series of compositions, using “elements” such as text, site, nature, performer, sound, social content, introduced each week. Structuring and response techniques are introduced through dialogue among students as they watch and respond to each others’ work.
For our first class, we did a close reading using Jeffers’ the poem, Science. From this the students created a found poem, composed of words and phrases from the Jeffers’ poem to which they responded. Each student read her/his work aloud. For homework, I gave them their first Composition, in which they will use their found poem, a piece of paper, and an element of nature to make a site-specific work.

9/22/09 CLASS 2
I taught a one hour workshop at Lincoln High for 9 high school students in the GEAR UP mentoring program. I developed a variation of Composition #1 and the kids created found poems by cutting up the Jeffers text and then making a collage using the documentary photos from the turn of the century as inspiration. We’ll display these works on Jeffers’ Day. Had to race from Lincoln to Oxy in 95 degree heat! Phew!
At Oxy students showed their Composition #1- Text. This composition gave students the chance to work with three “elements”: Text ( found poem), Nature, Site ( a piece of paper)
Very excited by what the students produced this week. A few examples: Elaine embossed her paper with the bark of a tree and cut a door in her paper, that she opened and closed at the beginning and end of her poem. Joni produced a facsimile of a tree using her paper and placed a live oak branch in it. Dmitri drew an extraordinary pen and ink of a hand holding a compass.
Bruce Steele, “the patron saint of ecology” at Oxy came to class took the students and me on an enlightening and exhausting walk up to the top of Fiji Hill. Water use is of great concern to Bruce, and we learned about a water recycling system he helped designed and had installed under the parking lot on Fiji Hill.
Oxy uses 95 million gallons of water a year, most of which waters the soft scape. Run off because of the extensive hardscape is a huge concern on campus.
From high atop Fiji Hill, Bruce introduced us to the geology of the area, showed us native plants and talked about a variety of animals he’s encountered as a beekeeper in the area.
Bruce and the grounds staff cut a tree down and have kindly sawed it into 6 inch pieces for use in our projects. He has also gotten the FEAST the sustainable garden club to give us one garden bed to plant aesthetically. Bruce has also agreed to bring his bees to the garden for Jeffers’ day. Yeah, Bruce!

9/29/09 CLASS 3
In the first half of class today Elaine, Julian and Dmitri showed their site based works, based on Composition #2.
We offered responses to each student artist: what we saw, felt, heard, or were aware of in watching their piece. I also drew attention to structuring a work in simple ways: “Beginning, Middle, End” or “Establishment, Tension, Release” and to placing the audience in a very specific relationship to the site and considering how to move the audience’s focus.
In the second half of class we spent time with composer, Bruno Louchouarn as well as student sound designer, Jeff Adler, who has offered to work with students on their pieces.
We talked about sound and music as compositional elements in your pieces. Bruno focused his talk on the use of metaphor as a construct to develop sound/musical ideas for your piece.
Key ideas in the use of metaphor to stimulate development of a work:
Metaphors associate the meaning of one thing with another
Metaphors can be in varying degrees of contrast or consonance with each other.
For instance, we came up with several different metaphors from considering a simple plastic bottle of water.
One could work with the concept of the bottle’s “transparency” or the water’s “purity”.
A next step would be to generate associations that these metaphors brings up: cloudy, dirty, distorted, membrane, containment, etc…. and also look for strong contrasting metaphors such as “pollution” or “contamination”.
From this ideas about sounds and music, but also the piece as a whole may be generated. A site work example developed in class:
“Floating many plastic bottles of dirty water in the Oxy fountain and playing a score that shifts from sounds of nature to sounds of construction to sounds of wailing children.”

Met with student dance club leader and discussed potential collaboration.
Visited with Elissa Chandler and about 15 students at the FEAST garden. We have several ideas about how to collaborate. Along with Auntie Em’s FEAST will sponsor at table at Jeffers’ Day with organic food baskets on display, as well as bi-lingual instructions about how to plant a kitchen garden.
Went to Opening Day for The Big Read. About 80 people showed up. It was wonderful to hear Jeffers’ poetry read by students, the new President of Occidental and to see how many members of the community are supportive.

10/6/09 CLASS 4
Natalya, Monikah and Joni showed Composition #2 -Site today. Natalya worked in the olive grove. Monikah found a hidden gem, in the garden south of the President’s House and Joni, showed work in the plant matter recycling lot up on Fiji Hill.
In a response period we focused on how to visually define a site, how to avoid limiting the site to the space around the performer, directing the eye through a progression of experiences that include “arrangement” can have a huge impact on directing attention
In Composition #3-Sound we’re incorporating the concept of metaphor from our class with composer, Bruno Louchouarn, and working with the text, Regarding Wave by Pulitzer Gary Snyder, another California poet sometimes referred to as the poet laureate of Deep Ecology.
Because time is marching on, we’re combining Composition 3 and 4. Composition 4: Social Content asked students to select Social Content to include in their work. I gave them four suggestions: sustainability, water use, youth, art and poetry. In some cases students have already selected content that’s meaningful and resonant with Jeffers’ Day. Students will also work in partnership, in preparation for how they will work on the final compositions.

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